A few years ago, I ran a survey of Australia’s top bridge players asking them to rank bridge skills. In that survey, concentration was ranked most highly as an area that players wanted to improve. This finding was confirmed by a great many of the leading players who were interviewed in Samantha Punch’s recently published book – Bridge at the Top. I think we all know it is important to concentrate, but knowing it is important, and managing to do it effectively are quite different things.
We often see players at the bridge table who are clearly not concentrating. Instead of paying attention to what is happening on the board they are playing, they are distracted by the director call at an adjacent table, or by something happening on the other side of the room, or by the room being too hot or cold, or by thoughts of what they are doing after bridge (if it’s the last hand). Commonly players who are not concentrating well are thinking about the disaster that happened on the last board where they were doubled for a score of -800 or worse. Failing to put this bad board behind them often leads to a disaster on the next board. I think we have all experienced the player who is off in a daydream and who needs prompting that it is their turn to bid or play. Contrast this behaviour with the players who are concentrating well. They are totally focussed on what is happening on the hand being played. They have tuned out all the extraneous stuff. Players who concentrate well don’t even notice what is going on in the room around them.
Concentrating well is important to ensure we keep track of the pips, the count on the hand and the inferences from the opponents’ decisions. This next hand is one which required good concentration to bring the contract home:
Playing pairs, when dummy appeared I really wished I had passed my flat 11 count in first seat, particularly after the opening lead of 4♥. Taking stock of the hand, a lot was going to have to go right to make 3nt on this board with only six top tricks immediately apparent and the lie of the cards between the two hands requiring the loss of the lead at least twice. With no other information, my usual rule is to put up the Q here which held with North discarding the 7 (encouraging). Hoping for something good to happen in diamonds, I played the ♦5 to my Q intending to run the 9 when I got in later. West won with the Ace and inexplicably, instead of continuing hearts, which would have made making the contract more difficult for me, West elected to play a low spade to their partner’s Ace. Perhaps West was hoping to find their partner with AJ9 of spades and she was trying set up a position to defeat the contract later. I ducked the ♥J return and won the continuation. Following up with my plan I played the ♦9 covered by the ♦J and won with dummy’s K while East discarded a spade leaving this position:
From here I simply crossed back to my hand with a spade and played a low club to the Q which held and set up West for an endplay by crossing to dummy’s ♦10 cashing my last spade (on which West was squeezed into pitching their winning heart to keep the guards against the clubs & diamonds and exiting a diamond. Making 9 tricks delivered 100% since we were the only pair bidding and making 3NT even though game is always possible.
Being able to concentrate well and to focus on the ‘here and now’ and forget about everything else is a skill that must be practiced, just like your other bridge skills. Modern society, with its constant interruptions may have caused some of us to lose our ability to concentrate well. However, improving your ability to concentrate is well-documented. There are many websites that describe things to do that will help improve your concentration. Since I like games, my preference is brain-training by spending just 15 minutes per day on one of the following activities:
- crossword puzzles
- jigsaw puzzles
- word searches or scrambles
- memory games
Finally, maintaining a healthy diet and getting some regular exercise are also important factors in assisting with maintaining good concentration at the bridge table.
© First Published in Australian Bridge: October 2021